Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

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1949 Volkswagen
 
Horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine, overhead valves, 69 cubic inches displacement, 30 horsepower

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By American standards, almost everything about the Volkswagen was unconventional. That included the rear-mounted engine. Instead of a V-8 or an Inline-6, VW used a flat-4 “boxer” engine with horizontally opposed pistons and rods that looked a bit like prizefighters going at each other. The air-cooled motor was simple, efficient and highly adaptable, eventually powering everything from dune buggies to light airplanes.


Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

 

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The Henry Ford sponsored the 2017 CES Innovation Awards, visible here.

If you explore the Consumer Electronic Show “by the numbers,” the tallies show an influx of 177,000 people into one small area of Las Vegas. Over the course of four days, the visiting population (equivalent to that of a small city) attempts to make its way through nearly 2.5 million square feet of exhibitions presented by almost 4000 different companies. By no means to be shrugged off is the 35 miles of walking I did over the five days that I was there; despite all of this trekking across three separate venues, I failed to see everything.

For those unfamiliar with the event, CES is a global trade show produced by the Consumer Technology Association. Every January, established companies and young startups alike launch and demonstrate the latest in consumer technology. At this event, some of the biggest names in innovation display alongside next-generation technology developers.

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Many artifacts from The Henry Ford’s collections, including those above, were first launched at CES.

In 2017, CES reached its 50th anniversary. To celebrate this milestone, an exhibition of devices first introduced to the public at the show were on display. The list of technology unveiled at CES over the years is impressive: Sony’s U-matic VCR (1970), the Sony/JVC personal Camcorder (1981), Philips’ CD player (1981)—as well as a lineage of media formats like the laserdisc (1978), CD (1981), DVD (1996), and Blu-Ray (2004). Many items that were introduced to the marketplace at CES also appear in The Henry Ford’s collections: Atari’s version of Home Pong (1975), the Commodore 64 (1982), the Nintendo Entertainment System (1985), the Sony Walkman (1980), and many cellphones from the 1980s that seem laughably large to us now such as the Motorola “brick phone” and wearable StarTAC flip-phone. 

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The Aira service is a digital visual interpreter for the blind.


The Henry Ford also sponsored the CES 2017 Innovation Awards—“an annual competition honoring outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology products.” Several winners in the Accessibile Tech category were of interest, given The Henry Ford’s archival collections documenting a visit from Helen Keller, blind workers at the Ford Rouge, TTY/TDD devices, or vibrating alarm clocks for the deaf and hard of hearing. The Aipoly application uses artificial intelligence and a smartphone camera to help the blind identify objects around them; the Aira service is a similar real-time visual interpreter that makes use of wearable devices like Google Glass to do the same. The ReSound ENZO2 hearing aid also makes use of the Bluetooth technology embedded in smartphones, allowing people to adjust noise cancellation levels in crowded area from an app on their phone—or to stream phone calls and music directly to their assistive devices. 

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The REMI smart alarm clock helps children to develop healthy sleep patterns. (Image courtesy of Urbanhello)

Increased awareness of digital citizenship and responsibility were also evident in the Innovation Awards—an important theme that will continue to affect our technology collections as we continue to grow them. The XooLoo Digital Coach rethinks parental controls over teen’s technology use. Rather than simply limiting content, this application allows parents to ethically participate and learn about the patterns of use in their children’s digital lives. The app does many things, such as log the amount of time spent on websites and social media, allows parents to turn off digital access during mealtimes—yet respects privacy by not exposing messages or geo-tracking. Other examples include the Motorola Moto-Mods series, which allows a Moto Z phone to transform into a boombox or a big screen projector—turning the solitary viewing or listening of media stored on smartphones into outward, shared experiences. The pleasant-looking Remi smart alarm clock by UrbanHello visually trains children how to create better sleep routines, which results in healthy growth, moods, and learning. Its glowing face flips from sleepy to happy mode, indicating when it is acceptable for a child to get out of bed; additional custom programming tells children when to brush teeth, plays calming music or can act as a monitoring device.


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The Navdy heads-up display allows drivers to see basic information linked from cell phone apps through a transparent screen on their dashboard. (Image courtesy of Navdy)

The continuing exploration into the applications of Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality dominated many booths, and was present in the work of several Best of Innovation Awardees. The Google Tilt Brush has been receiving attention as one of the first “killer apps” designed for VR, allowing people to create immersive worlds of painted light that might be applied towards prototyping video games, fashion, art projects, and industrial design.


And the Navdy Head-Up Display projects essential information linked from smartphone applications onto a clear display that rests in the line of sight of a driver’s windshield. Intended to reduce mental distraction that comes with needing to turn one’s head to look at vehicle technology, the Navdy allows drivers to see basic mapping, messages, and incoming phone calls without looking at their cellphones. 

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Ian Bernstein of the robotics company, Sphero, talks about important tactics for technology startups (second from left).

At a TechStars panel discussion, Ian Bernstein of the robotics company Sphero spoke about the importance of a young hardware company being able to “fake it.” Sphero was one of the first three companies in the world to create a device controllable from a smartphone. Their quirky spherical robots glide around with huge amounts of personality. Today, most people would recognize their Star Wars BB-8 toy sold in major retail stores beginning in 2015. But when Bernstein and co-inventor Adam Wilson first demonstrated their prototype Sphero at CES in 2011, after two days of heavy use, the 3D printed shells started to break down. On the third day of CES, the robots might have looked the same to visitors, but in reality, hours before the show opened, Bernstein had been misting clear backup shells with white spray-paint out in the parking lot. The spheres were also held together with clear silicon bands to make it easier for his friends working the booth to charge drained batteries.

As a curator of technology, it was easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume and potential of promising new technologies that were everywhere I looked. But beyond the dazzle of the “near future,” there were other layers to consider: the absolute importance of technology as an agent of social transformation, the remixing of old technologies into new—or the collapsing of multiple technologies down into one “convergence” device. Also tangible was the sheer amount of ingenuity and resourcefulness it could take for a single company to finally reach a point of presenting their work to the public. The innovator trait of embracing failure and revision in the prototyping process was also top of mind as I walked through the show. In the end, it is difficult to predict which ideas and devices will eventually reach the level of mass adoption by the everyday people—a key component to the “staying power” of technology. 

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Our curator of technology can verify that the coffee made in the DENSO Robotics Café was very good.

Many people have asked: “what is the best thing you saw at CES?” This question usually results into a wide-eyed panic as I try to rank one incredible bit of innovation over the other. But maybe a better question would be “what is the strangest thing you experienced at CES?” Immediate answer: being served a surprisingly good cup of pour-over coffee brewed by two graceful robot arms in the DENSO robotics booth. Once the former barista in me stopped thinking in a panic—“the robots are coming!”—the caffeine fix was appreciated, all the same.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

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1943 Willys-Overland Jeep
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 134 cubic inches displacement, 54 horsepower

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Simplicity and ease of maintenance were important requirements when the Army put out the request to manufacturers that ultimately produced the Jeep. Willys-Overland’s 4-cylinder engine – nicknamed “Go Devil” – offered sufficient horsepower and an impressive 104 pound-feet of torque in a compact, reliable package. It was easy to service, too. The fuel filter, carburetor and air cleaner are all within easy reach under the hood.

Matt Anderson is the Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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As you might expect, a car company with as long a life and as many different vehicles in production at various times as Ford Motor Company needed to document down to individual nuts and bolts each part of each vehicle. Over the 50 years between 1903 and 1957, Ford produced more than one million parts drawings, a comprehensive microfiche set of which now reside in The Henry Ford’s Benson Ford Research Center. We’ve just digitized several hundred of these parts drawings, including a couple dozen, like this one, that cover Model T ambulances built by Ford to be used during World War I. 

Go online to learn more about our parts drawings holdings, or browse all the digitized Ford parts drawings in our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections

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Chrysler’s Portal concept car. The company that invented the minivan now reimagines it.

It’s that time of year again, when the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) brings the world’s largest automobile manufacturers to Detroit to tempt us with their upcoming models – and tease us with a few dreamy concepts. As usual, the show does not disappoint. Autonomous concept cars, compact crossovers and alternative fuels are all prominent at this year’s event.

2016gtFord’s 2016 GT Le Mans winner, still covered in dust and glory.

Ford is rightfully proud of its big win in the GTE-Pro class at the 2016 Le Mans 24-hour race. Not surprisingly, the #68 GT piloted to victory by Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller is front and center at the company’s booth. What is pleasantly surprising, though, is that the Blue Oval resisted the urge to clean up the car and instead is displaying it in all of its battle-scarred glory. The GT wears that dirt and grime like a badge of honor.

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Ford’s autonomous Fusion Hybrid. The company promises a fully autonomous car for public use in 2021.

 Ford has made headlines recently with its plan to reposition itself as a mobility company rather than a carmaker. Head to the back of the firm’s NAIAS space and you’ll see that it’s more than mere talk. There’s a Go Bike from Ford’s bicycle sharing program in San Francisco, and a mention of the Chariot ride-sharing service the company purchased there in 2016. The real highlight for me, though, was the autonomous Fusion Hybrid. Apart from a pair of LIDAR units mounted above the side-view mirrors, most of the car’s sensors are hidden in what could pass for a luggage rack. Ford promises a fully autonomous vehicle in ride-sharing service in 2021. It seems the car won’t look all that different from anything else on the road. (While those LIDAR units are fairly discreet, I’m holding out for the inevitable autonomous car with an infrared scanner.)

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I always love the cutaways, like this V-6 from the all-wheel drive Cadillac CT6. Note the black driveshaft, running alongside the gearbox and bell housing, which sends power to the front wheels.

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Chevrolet Bolt, the 2017 North American Car of the Year.

General Motors has its own reason to crow. The Chevrolet Bolt takes honors as 2017’s North American Car of the Year. Chevy promises 90 miles of range with a 30-minute charge, certainly impressive in the EV category. And the Bolt’s 0-60 m.p.h. time of 6.5 seconds may not be Tesla-type ludicrous, but it’s a full second faster than many of its gas-powered subcompact competitors. And speaking of unconventional fuels, the General’s GMC Terrain crossover gets an optional diesel engine for 2018. GM hasn’t always had the best of luck with diesels, but the fuel efficient 1.6-liter engine could make Terrain buyers happy at the pump.

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Gustaf, the Volvo Spokesmoose. He’s there to promote the Swedish carmaker’s large animal detection system – and to provide a fun photo opportunity.


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The 2018 Toyota Camry gets an aggressive look to match its aggressive sales.

Toyota always mounts an impressive display at NAIAS, and this year is no exception. The company’s big surprise is a robust facelift to its perennially best-selling Camry. The 2018 model gets an angular, aggressive front end wholly unexpected on a sedan that’s practically synonymous with, well, “practical.” They say you should never mess with success, but you don’t become the world’s largest automaker by taking blind risks. I’m sure the focus groups loved the redesign. Besides, it’ll look great at Daytona.

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Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz autonomous van. Think how many more mysteries Scooby and the gang could solve if Fred didn’t have to worry about driving.

Thanks to its diesel shenanigans, Volkswagen had a rough year, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the German manufacturer’s NAIAS booth. They’ve brought what might be the most eye-catching concept vehicle at Cobo Center. The I.D. Buzz is a cheery homage to the classic Microbus, but the hippies have gone high-tech. The Buzz is all-electric – and intended to be fully autonomous. As envisioned, the van gives owners the best of both worlds with a standard manual mode that can be switched over to automatic whenever the driver needs a break.

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Presumably, the gas tank on this one is empty while it’s in Cobo Center – just like it was when Alexander Rossi coasted across the finish line in first place at last year’s Indianapolis 500.

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Another notable race car, the 2006 Rust-eze Special. Sure to be a hit with the toddler set.

While I could have spent the whole day wandering through the main hall, I’m glad I saved some time for the lower level. From January 8-12, the space hosted “AutoMobili-D,”a dedicated exhibition focused on autonomous vehicle research, urban mobility, and a number of techy startup companies. Of particular note was the booth devoted to the University of Michigan’s Mcity autonomous vehicle test facility. That Ann Arbor track, together with the American Center for Mobility at Willow Run, enables Michigan to hold its own against the tech titans of Silicon Valley, who threaten to take away the Great Lake State’s mantle of automobile R&D leadership.

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The Henry Ford’s 2010 Edison2, on view in Campus Martius.

If your visit to NAIAS takes you through Campus Martius, you might take a moment to peek in the lobby of the One Campus Martius building. There you’ll find our own Edison2 concept car, winner of the 2010 Progressive Automotive X Prize. The gasoline-powered vehicle, which weighs all of 830 pounds, got more than 100 miles per gallon during the competition. What with all of the folks from around the globe in Detroit this week, we thought we might tempt them to visit us in Dearborn. What better break from the cars of today and tomorrow than a look at the innovative automobiles of yesterday?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

auto shows

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Dozens of engines will be on view during Engines Exposed, but here Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford, describes some of his favorites to kick off this annual exhibit.

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1909 Ford Model T
Inline 4-cylinder engine, L-head valves, 177 cubic inches displacement, 22 horsepower

Early Model T engines circulated cooling water with a gear-driven pump, visible just behind this engine’s fan. After 2,500 units, Ford switched to a simpler – and less expensive – thermosiphon system dependent on natural convection. Model T never used an oil pump. The flywheel, spinning in an oil bath, simply splashed the lubricant around. The engine and transmission efficiently shared the same oil supply.

imls-logoAs we start a new year, it’s a good time to look back on the first half of The Henry Ford’s IMLS-funded grant to work on electrical objects, and to take stock for the future.

We had a busy and productive fall 2016, with some new adventures thrown in with continuing progress on objects themselves. If you haven’t already seen them, you should check out our Facebook Live videos – we’ve done a few so far (in October, November, and December), and the plan is to continue doing them on the first Friday of each month.

imls-5Gaulard & Gibbs transformer on the shelf before treatment (29.1333.229).

This Gaulard & Gibbs transformer had several conservation issues when we first saw it, most notably that the wooden base had broken under the strain of the weight of the object itself. You can see this in the before picture, where the object is lying on its side because it cannot stand anymore. There are also faint hints of color along the metal tabs that run up the body of the object.

imls-4The Gaulard and Gibbs transformer after treatment (29.1333.229).

You can see that this transformer had a fantastic transformation during conservation treatment – simply removing years of built-up dust revealed a very vivid red and black coloration. The broken wooden base was also very successfully repaired, and it is now possible for the object to stand on its feet again. When it’s packed for storage, it will be lying down again, so that the weakened wooden base isn’t put under too much strain for long periods of time.

We featured this object briefly in our Facebook Live videos – you may have noticed, if you tuned into both, that you could see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ as they happened.

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The interior of a meter, with strange accretions on white enameled metal. Note that this view is of the reverse of the top face (29.1333.63)

We’ve also encountered some interesting materials and material problems in the first half of our IMLS grant work. One of the most interesting was this strange accretion, found on the interior of a meter. Those brownish bulbs appeared to be seeping into the object from the top, but were only present on the enameled portions of the metal. They were friable and lighter on the inside than the outside. We looked at samples under the microscope, and even attempted to culture a sample, in case it’s a type of mold (it does not appear to be). We’re still not sure what exactly they are, but we will continue to try to figure it out! Mysteries of the museum, indeed.

imls-2An ohmmeter with a great example of hard rubber – note that the cylindrical casing which would usually go over the black area is removed in this photo (31.1217.235)

We have also recently come across a fantastic example of perfectly preserved hard rubber. The base of the object is one solid slab of hard rubber, but the protected interior area has retained the original black, mirror-like finish. The discoloration and matte surface of hard rubber occurs primarily from light exposure over time, and the colors possible range from a light black to the red-brown color on this object. We’ve put the exterior cylindrical case back on the object, sealing it well, so that the very tight case can continue to preserve this fantastic interior. 

imls-1Conservator Cuong Nguyen and Conservation Technician Andrew Ganem working on motors in their lab.

We have also been very fortunate to have Cuong and Andrew working with us for a little while. They're tackling some larger motors, which take longer to complete. Their help allows Conservation Specialist Mallory Bower and I to continue to work at the pace necessary to keep the project on target, while ensuring that as much of the collection as possible is treated. We greatly appreciate their help.

As always, this is only a small sampling of what we have been up to on the IMLS project. Please feel free to stop by our window at the back of the museum and see what we’re working on – there is always something interesting on our desks. Keep your eyes peeled for our next Facebook Live, as well. As we continue to move into 2017 and are fully into the second half of the project, we are excited to continue our work and continue keeping you updated

Louise Stewart Beck is the IMLS Project Conservator at The Henry Ford.

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Susan McCord (at far right) with family at the McCord farm, about 1904.  (with Susan, from left to right:  Susan’s daughter Millie McCord Canaday, husband Green McCord, granddaughter Ruth Canaday). Right: Susan and Green McCord, about 1885. EI.1929.2222

On her family’s farm near McCordsville, Indiana, Susan Noakes McCord (1829-1909) made meals for her husband and children, cleaned the house, sewed and mended the family’s clothing, knitted accessories, cared for the chickens, milked cows, tended the vegetable and flower gardens, read her Bible through each year, and participated in community gatherings.

In her “spare” time, she also made exquisite quilts. Exceptional quilts.

This ordinary Indiana farmwife had an extraordinary genius for designing and making quilts. Her “palette?”  Like other resourceful housewives of her time, Susan used materials that she had on hand: scraps of cotton prints or dress velvets left over from making her family’s clothing. She also cut usable fabric from the family’s worn-out clothing. Susan made some of her quilts in patterns then popular. And she likely used the flowers in her garden as further inspiration. 

But what Susan created with these everyday materials, the inspiration she found around her, and her rich imagination was stunning. Susan could manipulate fabric, color, and design to turn a traditional quilt pattern into something extraordinary. Her workmanship was equally superb. She joined her quilt top, the layer of filling, and the backing with thousands of tiny, even stitches—averaging 10 to the inch.

THF95129Floral Urn by Susan McCord, about 1860. THF 95129

Susan’s Floral Urn quilt is reminiscent of album quilts made of large appliqué floral or wreath blocks that were popular during the mid-19th century. But Susan's version is exceptionally imaginative. Susan's love of gardening likely inspired the fuchsia, tulips, and daisies which spill whimsically from the urns.

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Ocean Waves Quilt by Susan McCord, about 1880. THF 95131

This Ocean Waves quilt pattern was well-known in the late 19th century. But in Susan's hands the design is breathtakingly executed, formed of hundreds of tiny half-inch triangles cut from printed cotton fabrics. Susan finished the borders of this quilt with her unique meandering vines with colorful pieced leaves.

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Fan Variation Quilt by Susan McCord, about 1900. THF 95136

In the late 19th century, decorative "crazy" quilts -- made from silk, velvet, and wool scraps stitched together "crazily" and embellished with embroidery -- were all the rage. This quilt is a variation of a crazy quilt design called fans. Most quilters placed a fan in just one corner of a block. Susan sewed fans of varying sizes in each corner. Then she joined the blocks together to form "wheels" that dazzle with a sense of motion and energy.

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Vine Quilt by Susan McCord, 1880-1890. THF 95128

This stunningly beautiful quilt is Susan's masterpiece. This trailing vine design is a Mc original. Susan pieced together printed and solid cotton fabric scraps to create the over 300 leaves on each of the 13 vine panels. Susan used variations of this vine in the borders of several quilts. But Susan's vine design is rendered to perfection in this work of genius.

Do I sound like a member of the Susan McCord Fan Club? I am—along with hundreds of her other admirers. 


The Henry Ford is fortunate to have 13 Susan McCord quilts in our collection. Explore more of Susan’s quilts through our digital collections.

Vine inspired by Susan McCord  42284 X  Windham Fabrics

Windham Fabrics has recently created a fabric collection inspired by Susan’s genius for quilt making--and by the printed fabrics that found their way from her humble scrap bag into her stunning creations. Take a look at our new
Vine collection, along with two pattern ideas, to inspire your own genius today.


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.

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We continue to digitize one of the highlights of our vast auto racing collections, the Dave Friedman collection of photos. Over the course of 2016, we added 2,330 new items from this collection to our online holdings, bringing the total digitized from the Friedman collection to almost 21,000 images.

While these images capture the drama and the spectacle of car racing in the 1960s, nearly nine out of ten of those we’ve digitized thus far are black-and-white photos. However, we’ve just digitized a set of several dozen color images from the 1960 United States Grand Prix at Riverside, including this shot where you can enjoy the vivid red noses of the cars.

See more pics from the same race, or browse all our digitized color images from the Dave Friedman collection in our Digital Collections.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections

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One of the key aspects of the Dymaxion House in Henry Ford Museum is its central mast, which supports the entire structure. Buckminster Fuller, who created Dymaxion, had a lifelong interest in creating maximal structural strength with minimal materials and weight, most famously seen in his work with geodesic domes. When Fuller won his first commission for a geodesic structure, the Ford Rotunda, he worked with the Aerospace Engineering Lab at the University of Michigan to create a truss for load testing. Saved twice from being discarded by university staff, this test module was donated to The Henry Ford in 1993. 

It’s newly digitized and available for viewing in our Digital Collections, along with many other artifacts related to geodesic domes, Buckminster Fuller, and the Dymaxion House.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections